Jim Riswold . . . Unleashed

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What's so funny about, Mao, the Cultural Revolution and some really adorable dollhouse furniture?

Jim Riswold
Jim Riswold
I grew up a 98-pound weakling. In elementary school, Johnny Trasnosky beat me up religiously. In junior high school, Phil Keller took over for Johnny Trasnosky. In high school, Bob Newell replaced Phil Keller. Bob Newell's beating-up-Jim-Riswold efforts would have made Johnny Trasnosky and Phil Keller proud. Somewhere between Bob Newell pummelings, I came to the conclusion, despite Charles Atlas' best efforts and a modest weight gain, that I would always remain low on the he-man food chain. Trouble was, I really wanted to fight back. I'd pray every night, "Dear Jesus, please help me kick Bob Newell's ass. Amen."

It didn't work. Maybe Bob Newell prayed harder. "Dear Jesus, please help me kick Jim Riswold's ass even more than I did today. Amen." Somewhere, during Bob Newell's answered prayers, a couple things happened. First, I took Mrs. Harding's humanities class and met some of her dearest friends, with names like Ionesco, Swift and Voltaire; and I learned some really new words like satire, sarcasm, sardonic wit and hubris. Second, I discovered the absurdist wit of Monty Python. I did some funny math—I've always been funny with math—and learned something from this strange tonic of rhinoceroses, modest proposals, best of all possible worlds and very funny jokes about the very unfunny Spanish Inquisition. I learned to laugh at the bad guy.

And I'll let you in on a little secret: Bad guys don't like to be laughed at; that's part of what makes them bad guys. Bad guys take themselves so seriously. Mao, for instance, said, "People like me sound like a lot of big cannons." Comparing yourself to a cannon is called hubris. However, we're told not to laugh at this. Mocking dictators, satirizing them, we're told, trivializes their crimes. Obviously, I disagree. I'd argue that speaking about them only in deadly serious tones actually pays the fools the reverence they so crave. They don't mind being called monsters, but they sure don't like being called fools.

The oversized monument, choreographed pageantry and grand spectacle inflate the importance of the dictator, but a toy deflates its subject with its very smallness. Toys, by definition, make their subjects seem small, childish and trifling. If bad guys don't like being called fools, it stands to reason they wouldn't care too much to be seen as small, childish and trifling. Now, I'm not saying all we have to do to deal effectively with the lunatic evil that is, say, Kim Jong-il, is sneak Louis Black into North Korea with a Kim Jong-il bit and a megaphone, but it wouldn't hurt; unless, of course, you're Louis Black and you get captured and thrown in a dank prison and tortured.

Voltaire said, "I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it." Research says some good may come of doing so. Once I started mocking Bob Newell and his pugilist ways, he soon lost interest in beating me to a pulp. Go figure. But I think he stopped his bullying because I no longer paid him the reverence of fear. After all, Mrs. Harding, a bunch of dead writers and some extremely unbuff British comedians had my back and they could kick Bob Newell's ass. Maybe they prayed even harder than Bob Newell.


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